By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
It had been 17 years since Clemson last gave up 10 or more runs in a single inning. That was until Saturday.
The 21st-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets scored 10 runs in the top of the fifth inning to beat No. 13 Clemson, 14-9, in Game 3 of their weekend series. The Tigers, however, still won the series 2-1 thanks to Friday’s doubleheader sweep.
But on Saturday it was one inning that broke Clemson’s back. The Yellow Jackets (28-16, 12-12) brought 12 men to plate in the fifth inning, recorded seven hits and scored 10 runs as they went from down three to up seven runs when Clemson reliever Zack Erwin got Matt Gonzalez to fly out to centerfield to end the inning.
“It definitely killed us, it was a ten-run inning,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “They swung the bats very well today, but in the one inning we did not pitch, we didn’t play defense and we did not field the punts.”
Getting good performances on Sundays have been an issue for the Tigers (30-14, 15-9 ACC) all year. Clemson is 5-6 in closeout games on the weekend, including last week’s 7-0 loss at Miami and Saturday’s Georgia Tech game.
“We have to find an answer for our third ballgame on the weekend,” Leggett said. “We are kind of not getting what we need there. We have to figure something out there. We just did not come in and do our job in that one inning and that’s what it was.”
One reason why the Tigers have struggled in the third game of series this year is the inconsistency from its pitching. Clemson has started three pitchers in closeout games this year – Scott Firth, Matthew Crownover and Clate Schmidt.
After a couple of bad outings against South Carolina, Virginia and Duke, Firth was moved to the bullpen and Crownover took over as the No. 3 weekend starter. The freshman soon moved in at No. 2 after Schmidt started to struggle. In his last three starts, including Saturday, Schmidt has given up 15 runs (11 earned) and has lost his last two outings.
“We are going to have figure out something,” Leggett said.
Erwin, who gave up two runs in relief Saturday, could be the next candidate. Earlier this week, he gave up one run on four hits in a win against Western Carolina.
Despite being down seven runs after Tech’s 10-run fifth inning, Clemson did not go away quietly. The Tigers fought back and cut the lead to 12-9 after Maleeke Gibson singled to right field to score Shane Kennedy in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Gibson, who got his first start since March 15, led Clemson with three hits and four RBIs as the designated hitter.
“I got a few opportunities to drive in some runs, and I was able to capitalize,” Gibson said. “I got some good pitches to hit and I drove them in… When you work hard, and get your chance, you have to take advantage of it.”
After winning 14 of its last 16 coming in to Saturday, the Tigers will have to sit on the bitterness of this loss for a week. Clemson will take the next six days off for exam week and will not get back to the baseball schedule until Maryland comes to town next Saturday for a three-game series.
“It was a frustrating loss because we battled real hard yesterday and came out with two big wins and today we came out and didn’t play well,” Gibson said. “We did not have a good start. It’s baseball. You have to stay with it.”
Trailing 5-2 at the start of the fifth inning, Georgia Tech got two doubles from Daniel Palka and a two-run home run from Zane Evans to take a 12-5 lead. Evans, who blew the save and took the loss in Friday’s Game 2 defeat to Clemson, was 6-for-6 with two home runs, a double and six RBIs.
Palka and Evans recorded back-to-back homers in the top of the ninth inning to finish Clemson off.
“I don’t want to experience an inning like (the fifth) again,” Leggett said.